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Describing Who?

Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists

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Joanna Auron-Gorska

«Describing Who?» reveals the significance of photographs taken in contemporary Poland by professional American, French and Israeli Jewish photographers. Writing critically from the vantage point of her Polish and Jewish background, Joanna Auron-Górska argues that while visual representations of Poland and the Poles may appear atemporal, they are neither ahistorical nor apolitical. They are, instead, influenced by the culturally conditioned construct within which Poland serves to maintain the memory of the Shoah, by war trauma, and by post-war politics. The attitudes of foreign Western Jewry to non-Jewish Poles and Poland have so far received limited scholarship; this analysis is a contribution towards enlightening the conversation between Poles and Jews from outside of Poland.
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Chapter 8. Have You Killed and also Taken Possession?

Extract

 

The accusation appears in various contexts. It is quoted by Konstanty Gebert in his introduction to the Polish edition of R.E. Gruber’s book Virtually Jewish (whose title was rather ineptly translated into Polish as Rebirth of Jewish Culture in Europe), in both instances in the context of Polish involvement in the (re)creation of Jewish heritage (or, as the Polish title of Gruber’s book would have it, its rebirth)197. In Appelfeld’s novel Poland is a green country it is voiced by a characteristically buxom and morally loose Magda in the context of a (symbolic?) dispute over the price of Jewish tombstones198. It appears in an article by Eva Bar-Ze’ev on the restitution of Jewish property to its pre-war owners, where Bar-Ze’ev equates contemporary Polish law with Nazi decrees as “foul, rank, stinking of Nuremberg. Immoral. Inhumane. Unjust.”199 (Bar-Ze’ev blames generally, the Poles, for the irregularities involved in the takeover of this property, as if it was quite permissible to refer to Polish Jews as “the Poles” or to blame all Polish Jews for the fact that the Polish government cedes all pre-war Jewish property to one of its Jewish communities).

One of the effects the pattern inscribed in the machine for remembering the Shoah has on the culturally preferable modes of representing Poland is that the Poles are shown as agents of the obliteration of Polish Jewish culture, be it by absorbing it into the mainstream Polish culture or by destroying its physical ← 79...

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